As Cecil Gaines serves eight presidents during his tenure as a butler at the White House, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and other major events affect this man’s life, family, and American society.
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There’s an essential power to its forthrightly political-historical remediation, even if the way it goes about that is unapologetically broad and ham-handed. In other words, the world may not have needed a history of twentieth-century African-American culture with the general simplifying and narrative flattening of Forrest Gump, but it does need historical dramas from a black point of view.
The idea of the butler as a trojan horse for social change is a compelling one, given the historical association of the role with passivity and compliance. Yet this tricky, complex film — a moral conundrum cloaked inside the buttery, soft-focus sheen of the classical Hollywood biopic — never fully throws its weight behind that viewpoint.
The minutiae of daily life and the haunting psychic recesses are all inseparable from the exercise of government power—and “The Butler” has the remarkable effect of making that power appear visible, as if the very air we breathe were suddenly given a tint.
First we had The Blind Side, then we had The Help, and now we have The Butler. What is Hollywood's fascination with movies about downtrodden and subjugated blacks? Would it kill them to make a biopic about someone like, say, George Washington Carver?
With the asinine way this film casts presidents, I was fully ready to see Chris Rock as Barack Obama. The presidents themselves look like parodies and are so shortchanged to being like background figures of the civil rights. But that is one of the many problems in this emotionally-manipulative, overly-simplistic film that is like civil rights Cliff Notes. Can't believe I heard gasps during this film.
It may feel like a TV-movie of the week, with a parade of big name actors in cameo roles as presidents and first ladies, but it also has a heart a mile wide, and it goes a long way. THE BUTLER is somewhat innocent in many ways, but in that regard it reflects in protagonist in an almost accidental way. Equal turns goofy and earnest, it's an ultimately moving film that wins its audience through sheer force of will.
Superficially gleans over context-informing histories to produce a poorly developed but well performed portrait of a man, who is poignantly presented as the epitome of a dignified black American amid 20th century racial tensions. (2.5)
66/100 - Good.
66/100 - Good.
A wooden (even cartoonish) yet well intentioned and in some regards well acted (esp. Oprah and Whitaker) film. Unfortunately Daniels botches it by turning Cecil into a Black Forest Gump who just happens to be in the midst of several pivotal historical moments. It's unfortunate because the central conflict between father and son, different generations of Black men, is a moving one.